Fire in the Sky

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WASHINGTON: Children's pajamas are flame-retardant –- maybe airplanes should be too. That’s the brilliant conclusion the FAA has finally come to in the wake of the crash of Swissair flight 111. The agency, expecting new tests to show that the insulation in the bodies of almost all of the world's 12,000 passenger jets may catch fire when exposed to heat, officially recommended that the planes be retrofitted with new flame-retardant insulation.

The cost of adding the insulation would run into the billions, which may be one reason why the FAA isn't sounding an urgent alarm. It hasn’t issued an "airworthiness directive," the FAA's term for something that must be done at once. Instead, the agency suggests that the retrofit be performed at each plane’s next scheduled maintenance check, or thereabouts. The FAA has known about the potential insulation problem for years -- its Chinese counterpart reported the problem in 1996 after a Chinese Eastern MD-11 caught fire in Beijing. Hopefully, no more fresh evidence will come along.